People-smuggling suspect remanded ahead of extradition hearing

Image source, NCA
Image caption,
A joint investigation between the NCA and Belgian police led to an arrest

A suspected leader of a cross-Channel people-smuggling network has appeared in court for extradition proceedings.

Iranian asylum seeker Hewa Rahimpur, 29, who lives in Ilford, is suspected of heading a network that organises human trafficking via small boats, Westminster Magistrates' Court heard.

He was arrested near Wanstead Park, east London, on Wednesday.

It followed a joint investigation by the National Crime Agency (NCA) and Belgian authorities.

Boats and outboard motors had been seized from the back of a car near the Belgian-French border in October 2021, the NCA said.

Image source, Elizabeth Cook
Image caption,
Mr Rahimpur appeared at Westminster Magistrates' Court with an interpreter

Mr Rahimpur spoke to confirm his name and date of birth with the help of a Kurdish interpreter.

Asked if he would agree to his extradition to Belgium, the 29-year-old said: "I would never agree to consent to go to Belgium."

The prosecution told the court Mr Rahimpur is accused of sourcing the boats in Turkey before organising to have them delivered to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.

He was described as having a "crucial central role within the organised crime group" that dealt in "human trafficking of vulnerable victims in inflatable boats across the channel to the UK", the court heard.

Two people arrested in Belgium identified Mr Rahimpur as the man who had purchased the boats and organised transport to the French coast, the hearing was told.

He is also alleged to have received funds from individuals who had paid to be smuggled across the Channel in the boats, the court heard.

Image source, NCA
Image caption,
Mr Rahimpur is accused of being a leading figure in a network said to be engaged in "systematic human smuggling"

Arguing that bail should be denied, the prosecution alleged Mr Rahimpur "knows people who have access to illegal immigration" to help him flee the country and also alleged he had caused confusion by giving authorities two different east London addresses.

But the defence argued Mr Rahimpur should not necessarily be extradited because he "has never been to Belgium".

Mr Rahimpur is an asylum seeker who was granted leave to remain in the UK in 2020 as a Kurdish political activist who faced political oppression, the hearing was told.

District Judge Briony Clarke remanded Mr Rahimpur into custody, saying: "This is a warrant that contains allegations of very serious offending as part of an organised crime group and you face a significant sentence if you are convicted.

"That in itself leads me to believe that you may fail to surrender yourself into custody if granted bail."

The judge set an extradition hearing for 2 September.

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